2020 the 'last chance' for world to tackle climate change, environment agencies warn

Natural England and the Environment Agency warned that ambition to cut greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050 was ‘only as good as its deliver Credit: John Giles/PA

The year 2020 is the "last chance" to bring the world together to tackle climate change and protect communities and nature, the heads of two major environmental bodies in the UK have warned.

Leaders of government agencies Natural England and the Environment Agency warned climate change has already had "dire consequences" to nature.

Natural England chairman Tony Juniper and the Environment Agency’s Emma Howard Boyd cited the recent flooding in Yorkshire which forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes as examples of how areas are already impacted.

And a report in October on the state of nature in the UK found two-fifths (41%) of the country’s wildlife species had declined over the past 50 years and 13% of the species tracked were threatened with extinction in England.

In an article on the Green Alliance website, Mr Juniper and Ms Howard Boyd said: “It’s clear that 2020 is our last chance to bring the world together to take decisive action on climate change in order to protect our communities and reverse the alarming loss of wildlife we have witnessed in recent years.”

Fishlake, Doncaster, was heavily hit by the flooding in November. Credit: PA

They said the environmental challenges of climate change and nature losses were fundamentally connected to each other.

“Climate change is causing damage to ecosystems, such as the droughts which are wrecking chalk rivers and wetlands, while the degradation of the natural environment, such as deforestation and drainage of peatlands, is leading to the emissions causing climate change," they wrote.

“If we are to adapt to what are now inevitable climatic shifts, including the effects of extreme weather, then restoring the natural environment must be at the heart of our response.”

The pair called for action to be taken in the UK, with the signing of a new Environment Bill which would be approved by parliament.

The two environmental bodies have plans for large-scale woodland regeneration to store carbon, improve wildlife habitat, clean up rivers and reduce flood risk.

And they said the Government’s commitment for a new £640 million Nature for Climate Fund in the Tory election manifesto is one way national efforts could be delivered.

Projects such as the efforts to prevent dozens of species being lost from the UK or creating and restoring large areas of habitat are helping adapt to climate change, protect wildlife and capture and store carbon.

But they warned that ambition to cut greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050 was “only as good as its delivery”.

Alongside policies and initiatives, substantial financial investments in environmental recovery would be vital – including properly resourced government agencies.

“Our government has the opportunity to lift plans for clean, green, healthy and resilient communities at home towards action for the whole world.

“In that programme it will have our full support, for if we walk the talk, we might just persuade others to share our vision,” they urged.